One of the positions Lions fans will be keeping their eye on very closely this weekend in their second preseason game against the Jets, and especially all season long, is the running backs.
Ameer Abdullah is entering the third season of his four-year rookie contract. So far, his career has been less than the Lions expected when they selected him number 54 overall in the 2015 draft.
Abdullah’s rookie year was encouraging, playing in all 16 games and starting nine. He rushed for 597 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He also added 183 yards receiving. The big issue was that he only scored three touchdowns while fumbling five times.
Last year started off with a bang for Abdullah. He averaged over five and a half yards per carry in the first two games and caught all five balls thrown his way 57 yards and a score. Most importantly, Abdullah didn’t lose a single fumble.
It was a promising start but ended there. Injuries cost Abdullah the rest of his season.
So heading into the season, Abdullah is running out of time to prove that he can be a consistent, long-term solution to the Lions top running back spot. He has to show that last year’s injuries will not become a recurring problem and that he can handle the bulk of the carries.
Thankfully, with receiving threat Theo Riddick taking his share of the snaps, Abdullah will never have to be a 20-25 carry kind of guy. What he has to do is make the most of the opportunities he does get.
If Abdullah can stay healthy, and get as many as 16 carries per game, he has the skills to become only the second 1,000-yard rusher in the last 13 years for the Lions, joining Reggie Bush in 2013.
It is more likely, however, that Abdullah will lose a handful of carries each game to Riddick, Zach Zenner, and occasionally even Dwayne Washington. That will likely mean 800 yards rushing is a more likely total for Abdullah.
That could be enough.
Detroit ranked 30th out of 32 NFL teams in total rushing last year. Not one Lion ran for even 400 yards. Their leading rusher, Riddick, only had 150 more yards on the ground than Matthew Stafford. If this team plans to move forward and not regress, that cannot happen again.
With an even average running game, that should keep the opposing linebackers honest, forcing them to stay close to the line of scrimmage. That may give Stafford and his receivers a slightly wider gap between the front seven and the secondary, which should translate into moving the chains more often.
So it comes down to Abdullah, and the now patchwork offensive line. If he can stay healthy and help force the defense to stop teeing off on their quarterback, this team may have a shot at the post-season. It may also lead to a big contract extension for Abdullah.